Growing up in suburban Chicago, Ryan Hartman was not a Flyers fan. However, as a forward who prides himself on playing a physical and feisty style of hockey supplemented by a decent touch around the net, he could not help by admire the traditional identity of the Philadelphia franchise.
As such, when Hartman was traded to the Flyers from the Nashville Predators on Monday in the deal that sent fan favorite power forward Wayne Simmonds to Nashville, the former Chicago first-round pick saw an instant fit for himself with his new team.
"Right away, I was pretty excited. I've always liked how the Flyers play the game," Hartman said on Monday. "I play a hard style, a physical game. I get to the dirty areas, get in the corners... That's the kind of hockey I like. Blocking shots, doing the little things right and playing a hard-nosed style."
As the cliche goes, actions speak louder than words. Hartman went into his Flyers debut eager to make a good impression the best way he knows how.
"Just putting [a Flyers uniform] on felt good," Hartman said afterwards.
Back on the night of his NHL debut with Chicago (Feb. 13, 2015), Hartman crushed 6-foot-5, 225-pound longtime NHL forward Dainius Zubrus with a huge hit. Although Hartman was already plenty pumped up for his first game in orange and black, the Flyers put together a video reminder of that earlier memorable moment in his NHL career. Lo and behold, Hartman's first shift as a Flyer was a virtual carbon copy.
Locking in on standout Sabres rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in the Buffalo zone, Hartman steamrolled him with a clean hit in open ice. Moments later, the 6-foot, 181-pound right winger grappled with Dahlin's 6-foot-3, 226-pound blueline partner Zach Bogosian. The Flyers ended up with a power play from the scrum.
"Our video coach, Adam Patterson, did a little highlight video for him of his first shift where he hit [Zubrus]. It was like watching replay of it live. It obviously got the fans pretty excited and he showed a little bit about what he's about," Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said.
Said Hartman, "It kind of put me into the game a little bit and it got me ready. Anytime you can get your adrenaline going a little a bit, it always helps when you might have a little nerves."
The Dahlin hit and tussle with Bogosian get the Wells Fargo Center crowd fired up, too. Hartman skated to the penalty box to a big ovation.
"It sounded like they loved it. I plan on bringing a lot more of that," Hartman said.
Later in the first period, Hartman landed another solid hit in open ice; this time on Sabres' defenseman Jake McCabe at center ice. Hartman ended up being credited with four hits.
It wasn't just Hartman's hitting game that made him stand out. He does have some skill as well. The 24-year-old had 19 goals as an NHL rookie two season ago and had eight goals and 14 points for Nashville through the first 30 games this season. Overall, he has 20 points this season (10g-10a), all at even strength.
Hartman's board work is his 14:12 of ice time in his Flyers debut was solid. He also generated four shots on goal, including a nice rush that showed off his above-average wheels and a shot that turned from routine to potentially dangerous as Hartman utilized a screen from linemate Scott Laughton.
In general, the new trio of Hartman on the right side of Laughton and James van Riemsdyk had a good first game together. van Riemsdyk, whose brother Trevor played with Hartman in Chicago, was already familiar with Hartman's game.
"Him being an American, you follow those guys a little bit coming up and watching them in the World Juniors and things like that. So, you know what type of ability he has. So yeah, there's some good chemistry, and with Laughts too. So it was fun to play," van Riemsdyk said.
Meanwhile, back in Chicagoland, where his family owns a sports bar called Bar Down Sports Grill in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates, the number of Flyers fans has already grown. On Tuesday night, Ryan's father, Craig Hartman, had a watch party at the sports bar for his son's Flyers debut.
"My dad's place was a Blackhawks bar and then it became a Nashville bar. Now it's a Flyers bar," Ryan Hartman said with a grin. "I talked to him just a little bit after the game."
If the younger Hartman's first game in Philadelphia is a harbinger of things to come, there will plenty to cheer about both at the Wells Fargo Center and a newfound Flyers fan enclave in the heart of Blackhawks country.